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Archive for the ‘Universal (-International)’ Category

Produced and Directed by William J. Hole, Jr.
Written by James Edmiston and Dallas Gaultois
Cinematography: John M. Nickolaus, Jr.
Music by Alec Compinsky

Cast: James Craig (Tom Sabin), Martha Vickers (Mary Hoag), Edgar Buchanan (Dipper), Brett Halsey (Johnny Naco), Paul Richards (Hoag), Richard Martin (Quijano), Blu Wright (Farmer Brown), John Swift (Zodie Dawes), Paul Raymond (Bartender)

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One of my favorite things about early CinemaScope pictures: those long takes. If the Scope picture is a cheap one, with setups kept to a minimum to save money, then you can count on even more long takes. And that brings us to Four Fast Guns (1959). It’s a cheap little B&W Scope Western released by Universal-International.

The premise is terrific. A town tamer is on his way to Purgatory when he comes across Tom Sabin (James Craig). Sabin ends up gunning the guy down, then rides on to Purgatory and takes on the town tamer job. Purgatory’s run by Hoag (Paul Richards), who owns the saloon — he’s who the townspeople want “tamed.” Hoag writes to three notorious gunmen, offering each $1,000 to kill Sabin. (He even asks Sabin to mail the letters!) All three show up, and all three end up locking horns with Sabin. When the last fast gun, Johnny Naco (Brett Halsey), turns out to be Sabin’s brother — and Hoag’s wife Mary (Martha Vickers) admits she’s in love with the town tamer, things get complicated. It all makes for an interesting 72 minutes.

James Craig does a good job in his take on the world-weary gunfighter. This is a common theme in 50s Westerns, of course — ranging from Gregory Peck in The Gunfighter (1950) to Fred MacMurray in Face Of A Fugitive (1959). Not a lot of time goes into the relationship between the Sabin brothers, but it’s well done. It’s another angle you see quite a bit in these films — Night Passage and Fury At Showdown (both 1957), for instance.

Four Fast Guns was Martha Vickers’ last feature. I’ll never forget her in The Big Sleep (1946). She’d do a couple episodes of The Rebel, then retire. Her scenes with Craig are well done. Mary’s love for Sabin doesn’t come out of the blue. It actually makes sense, thanks to the performances and the script from James Edmiston and Dallas Gaultois.

It was a unique idea to put Hoag in a wheelchair, and it’s great to see Richard Martin, as one of the fast guns, do a serious take on his Chito character from the Tim Holt pictures. Edgar Buchanan is as dependable as ever as Dipper, who serves as Sabin’s makeshift deputy. His character could’ve easily become a liability, but he keeps things in check most of the time.

John M. Nickolaus, Jr. shot Four Fast Guns. He also shot a few Regalscope pictures, including Showdown At Boot Hill and Desert Hell (both 1958), so he certainly knew his way around B&W Scope. (The House Of The Damned, a cheap haunted house picture that Nickolaus shot for Maury Dexter, is worth seeking out.) The bulk of Nickolaus’ career was spent in TV, shooting many episodes of Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, The Outer Limits and more. The blocking of scenes within the wide frame, bringing real life to those long takes, is very effective.

Four Fast Guns is usually listed as a 1960 picture. But it played at the Palms Theatre in Detroit (with 4D Man) in December of 1959. Released by Universal-International, it was often paired with Operation Petticoat (1959).

I love cheap movies like this, where talent and ingenuity make or break the picture. (Today’s budget-equals-quality approach to cinema is why I rarely go to the movies anymore.) Four Fast Guns is available on DVD from Kit Parker Films and VCI Entertainment in two ways — first as part of their Darn Good Westerns set, then as a standalone DVD. Either way, it looks terrific and comes highly recommended. (I’d love to see it make its way to Blu-Ray.)

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Directed by Nathan Juran
Screenplay by John Meredyth Lucas
From a novel by Kenneth Perkins
Director Of Photography: Russell Metty
Film Editor: Virgil W. Vogel

Cast: Audie Murphy (Jim Harvey), Lori Nelson (Laura Saunders), Chill Wills (Sheriff Murchoree), Roy Roberts (Nick Buckley), Russell Johnson (Lam Blanden), K.T. Stevens (Louella Buckley), Madge Meredith (Sarah Blanden), Lee Van Cleef (Marv), I. Stanford Jolley (Ted), Ross Elliott (Seth Blandon), Ralph Moody (Aguila), Eugene Iglesias (Tigre), Phil Chambers (Trapper Ross), Lyle Talbot (Weber), King Donovan (Wrangler), Harry Harvey (Prospector)

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Tumbleweed (1953) is one of my favorite Audie Murphy movies.

Once they got him figured out, Universal-International did a great job of developing pictures that played to Audie Murphy’s strengths. As his confidence grew, the movies just got better and better, leading to really good performances in things like Night Passage (1957) and No Name On The Bullet (1959).

In this one, Audie’s a trail guide leading a small wagon train through Indian territory. When the Indians attack and almost everyone is killed (Lori Nelson and K.T. Stevens survive), Murphy’s branded a deserter and jailed. He’s sprung by Tigre (Eugene Iglesias), an Indian he befriends right after the credits, and pursued into the desert by a posse lead by Chill Wills.

Along the way, he’s given a scraggly horse by a sympathetic rancher (Roy Roberts). This is Tumbleweed, and Murphy’s relationship with the horse — Tumbleweed saves Murphy again and again — is one of the best things about the movie. In a way, you could say the horse saves the movie, too, since his place in the story helps it deviate from convention in some really terrific ways. And, as we all know, that really sets these movies apart, when they zig instead of zag like all the rest.

Nathan Juran, the director of Tumbleweed, started out as an art director. He made the transition to director with The Black Castle (1952).

Nathan Juran: “I was just a technician who could transfer the script from the page to the stage and could get it shot on schedule and on budget. I never became caught up in the ‘romance’ of the movies.”

Russell Metty shot the film at Vasquez Rocks, Red Rock Canyon and Death Valley, and it looks great. Metty also shot Touch Of Evil (1958), Spartacus (1960) and Madigan (1968). He doesn’t get his due, if you ask me.

The cast is made up of some great character actors, many from U-I’s own roster. The lovely Lori Nelson had a good run at U-I — two Ma and Pa Kettle pictures, Bend Of The River (1952), a Francis movie, Revenge Of The Creature (1955) and more — before working at AIP on stuff like Day The World Ended and Hot Rod Girl (both 1956). She’d work extensively on TV, with a guest spot in Audie Murphy’s series Whispering Smith.

Lee Van Cleef is appropriately nasty as Marv. Roy Roberts is good as the rancher who comes to Murphy’s aide. And Russell Johnson has a terrific fight with Murphy in the last reel, running all over Vasquez Rocks. My only complaint would be Chill Wills, who I’ve never cared for. Of course, the strongest member of the supporting cast is Tumbleweed himself. He’s really something.

You can really see Audie Murphy coming into his own in Tumbleweed. It’s a good 50s Western from Universal. And that’s about as good as it gets.

Source: Nathan Juran interview from Starlog

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Was looking for images for a couple posts I was working on and found an ad where they played as a double feature (in Long Beach in December of 1953).

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John Gavin
(April 8, 1931 – February 9, 2018)

John Gavin, who played Jack Loomis in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and Julius Caesar in Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960) has passed away at 86. He also appeared in the sublimely wonderful Quantez (1957, above),  a sadly under-appreciated 50s Western from Universal-International, starring Fred McMurray and Dorothy Malone (who just passed away herself) and directed by Harry Keller.

Gavin was almost cast as James Bond for Diamonds Are Forever (1971). He served as ambassador to Mexico during the Reagan administration. He was married to Constance Towers.

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960

Back in 2014, gathering everybody’s favorite DVD and Blu-Ray picks for the year turned out to be a lot of fun. It’s since become an annual thing.

Thanks to everybody who sent in their picks for 2016. This was a great year for 50s Westerns on DVD and Blu-Ray (and 2017 is shaping up to be just as good, or maybe better). Here’s the Top 10, according to your votes.

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10. Desperado (1954, Warner Archive, DVD)
It was a tie between this Wayne Morris picture and his earlier Desert Pursuit (1952). They’re both solid, offbeat little Westerns — and it’s real treat to have them available in such stellar condition.

9. Yellow Sky (1948, Kino Lorber, Blu-Ray)
Thanks to William Wellman, we didn’t have to wait till the 50s for Hollywood to start making 50s Westerns. The town of Yellow Sky is populated by only an old prospector and his daughter — until some slimy outlaws come riding up.

8. Western Union (1941, Kino Lorber, Blu-Ray)
Randolph Scott in Fritz Lang’s second Technicolor movie. There’s so much cool stuff in this movie, and it looks wonderful.

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7. Black Horse Canyon (1954, Universal Vault, DVD)
For years, Joel McCrea’s Universal Westerns were missing on DVD. It’s great to have them so easy to track down. This is a good one.

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6. Comanche Station (1960, Explosive Media, Blu-Ray)
The last of the Scott-Boetticher Westerns turns out to be the first to make its way to Blu-Ray, and as I see it, the others can’t get here soon enough. This thing’s incredible.

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5. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1948, Warner Archive, Blu-Ray)
John Ford’s She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1948, above) is one of the most beautiful color movies ever shot. The proof is pressed oh-so-magnificently into this Blu-Ray. It also features one of John Wayne’s finest performances.

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4. Roughshod (1949, Warner Archive, DVD)
This gets my vote as the best of the “noir Westerns.” I was real happy to see the response this picture got. It’s a shame it’s not better known.

3. Cariboo Trail (1950, Kino Lorber, DVD/Blu-Ray)
The transfer here is a minor miracle, demonstrating how good CineColor can look. They wisely didn’t go overboard with the cleanup, so it still retains its true film look. And, of course, this is a solid picture from Edwin Marin and Randolph Scott.

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2. Johnny Guitar (1954, Olive Films Signature Edition, DVD/Blu-Ray)
Olive’s new Signature edition is a marked improvement over their old release, which was terrific. The restored 1.66 framing makes a big difference, and the supplemental stuff is excellent.

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1. One-Eyed Jacks (1961, Criterion Collection, DVD/Blu-Ray)
Opinions of Marlon Brando’s Western are all over the place, so I was really surprised to see it land in the top spot. However, judging it simply in terms of its superb presentation, I don’t see how anything could beat it. It’s stunning, a big fat reward to all of us who’ve suffered through those awful tapes and discs over the years. I’m proud and honored to have been involved with Criterion’s work here. (Note: Having worked on the One-Eyed Jacks extras, I did not feel comfortable taking part in the vote this time around.)

In closing, the discs on this list highlight the impact the video presentation can have on our appreciation of these old movies. Many of these have been available, in some form, for years. One more thing: your reasons for not buying a Blu-Ray player are rapidly running out.

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Here’s a great little speech from No Name On The Bullet (1959), maybe Audie Murphy’s best picture. He plays a gun-for-hire who rides into town and creates a wave of paranoia — as everybody’s convinced he’s here to kill them.

John Gant (Audie Murphy): “Take two men. Say they have robbed and lied, and have never paid. The man whom one of them has robbed comes to me and says, ‘Kill that man who’s robbed me.’ And I kill him. The other man becomes ill and would die, except for a physician who returns him to health to rob and lie again. Who’s the villain in this piece? Me or the physician?”

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Directed by James Neilson
Starring James Stewart, Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea, Dianne Foster, Elaine Stewart, Brandon de Wilde, Jay C. Flippen, Robert J. Wilke, Hugh Beaumont

This is one some of us have really been waiting for — Night Passage (1957) is finally coming to Blu-Ray, where it most certainly belongs. Elephant Films out of France have announced its hi-def debut for March 2017.

Shot in Technirama, a high-fidelity combination of VistaVision and anamorphic widescreen, this picture is as sharp as the movies ever got. And with loads of incredible location work in Durango, Colorado, it’s stunning.

The movie itself, while it’s no masterpiece, has been unjustly maligned. You’ll find the story behind all that in a post from a few year ago. It’s still one of my favorite pieces, thanks in large part to the terrific discussion that cropped up in the comments.

Thanks to Allen Smithee for the news.

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